Exporting Indian beauty

Sexy subcontinentals are grabbing Miss World and Miss Universe crowns.

Published December 22, 1999 5:00PM (EST)

Dec. 22, 1999

Yukta Mookhey, a 20-year-old, 5-foot-11 brunette from Bombay was crowned Miss World earlier this month in London's Olympia Theater. Her triumph over runner-up Martina Thorogood of Venezuela epitomizes India's emerging reign as champion of beauty pageants over its perennial South American nemesis.

In 1966, Reita Faria became India's first Miss World princess in a Cinderella victory. But recently, the preeminence of Indian beauty queens has become downright common. In the last five years, Indian women have snagged four international tiaras. Among the recent subcontinental glamor queens are Sushimita Sen (1994 Miss Universe), Aishwarya Rai (1994 Miss World) and Diana Hayden (1997 Miss World).

India's super-beauties aren't born flawless and primed for tiaras and roses. As in Venezuela, a country equally afflicted with beauty pageant fever, a thriving industry has grown up around the search for India's next heir to the crown. Vegan nutritionists, orthodontists, hairstylists, dance teachers, meditation instructors, etiquette consultants, spiritual advisors and cosmetic surgeons all collaborate in perfecting the art of making the girl next door into runway royalty. "Today, all a girl needs is good height and a reasonably pretty face," claims fitness consultant Rama Bans. "We can do the rest."

Bombay plastic surgeon Dr. Narendra Pandya sculpts faces into the desired mathematical symmetry: three equal portions from the forehead to the chin. Cosmetic dentist Sandesh Mayekar chisels angular jaws into softer ovals, pushes up the gums and recontours, shortens and whitens the teeth. Skin specialist Jamuna Pai lightens dusky complexions, zaps zits and tans pale thighs for the swimsuit competition.

Scalpels carve bigger eyes and higher cheekbones, silicone puffs-up lips for the point-scoring pouty look and rhinoplasty molds a fashionable nose: pearl-drop nostrils beneath a sharp tip. A "firm and full" bust-enhancement machine can also add 2 inches of crucial tissue to a contestant's chest.

Is there enough gain to merit such pain? Evidently. Indian beauty princesses garner far more adoration than their first world sisters. Not only do winners instantly become revered household names, they often segue into successful movie careers. And in a land often stereotyped as a teeming center of poverty and overpopulation, the Indian public tends to view their home-grown beauties as a patriotic export.

By Hank Hyena

Hank Hyena is a former columnist for SF Gate, and a frequent contributor to Salon.

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